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If you pulled the Parlee Altum Disc out of the box rear wheel first, you’d think it is a lightweight climbing bike. Then you’d keep tugging and you’d see the tall head tube with its unique top tube junction. Confusion would ensue. Is this an endurance bike? A race bike?
After extensive testing, the answer still isn’t entirely clear. Perhaps that’s the point: The Altum Disc might be the ideal ride for a former racer looking for stiffness, light weight, and peppiness mated with a less-aggressive front end for comfort and stability. This isn’t a true low and long race bike.
That means the Altum’s pedaling response feels an awful lot like a zippy climbing bike. Those first few pedal strokes give the impression that this is a rocket. Pushing it up long hills reinforces that notion. It’s lithe and fun on the way up, with plenty of kick for the really steep stuff. A short 983mm wheelbase and 410mm chain stays certainly contribute to that quick feeling. The geometry bucks the trend of long, relaxed positioning common among endurance bikes. The bottom bracket feels just as stiff as any of the best race bikes out there, too.
Yet when you settle in for long miles, the front end acts much more like a laid-back endurance bike. Steering errs on the side of languid despite a steep 73.5-degree head tube angle and 54-millimeter trail, both of which fit the mold of a purebred race bike. So where does that relaxed feeling come from? That tall head tube.
Parlee’s top cap system allows you to raise or lower your position based on which of the three caps you use. (In this case, the top cap refers to the cap over the headset — beneath the stem — not the top cap that sits on top of the stem. As you can imagine, each cap is a different height.) Changing the cap from the short to the tall changes your stack from 587mm to 603mm and your reach from 381mm to 376mm. The head tube measures 173 millimeters (size M/L). So while the trail and head tube angle scream racer, the tall head tube creates a more laidback riding position that could slow down the steering response.
About that tall front end, and the protrusion on the top tube: Tom Rodi, Parlee’s director of marketing, says it’s more than just an aesthetic cue. “It allows for multiple bar positions via the three top cap system. It incrementally improves aerodynamics. It improves the overall torsional stiffness in the area, and it keeps standover heights reasonable.”
While the customization feature is nice, we defaulted to the lowest top cap position. Even then the front end felt too tall to all the racers and former racers in the VeloNews office.
The 31.6-millimeter seatpost bucks the norm for an all-around bike as well. A thinner 27.2-millimeter seatpost would likely add some compliance to the otherwise stiff rear end.
Our test bike came built with SRAM’s excellent eTap HRD group and DT Swiss ERC 1100 Dicut wheels. We liked the build overall, though Parlee’s house-brand handlebars felt very wide, and have long drops that protrude back more than most bars. When we spoke to Parlee’s Rodi at Interbike, he said the bike’s drops are long so riders can either capitalize on the extra hand position or trim the bars to his or her liking. And the wide bars do help neutralize front-end chatter, but riders used to a narrow race cockpit will probably want to swap these out.
Does this hybrid race-endurance bike work? It depends on what you want to get out of your bike. You don’t need a Lamborghini, but a Ford Escort won’t cut it either. You need a Subaru CrossTrek with the high-end trim package. That’s what the Altum Disc is: An everyday bike that flirts with comfort but isn’t afraid of hard efforts in pursuit of your Strava PRs. It ultimately succeeds as an aggressive endurance/all-around crossover.